Grasslands and the importance of their conservation

The main habitats of community interest covered by the LIFE GRACE project are:

  • 6210 (*) Semi-natural dry grasslands and scrubland facies covered by bushes on limestone substrates (Festuco-Brometalia), the habitat is considered a priority (*) if it hosts a rich contingent of orchid species
  • 6220 * Pseudo-steppe with grasses and annuals Thero-Brachypodietea
  • 6230 * Species-rich Nardus grasslands , on siliceous substrates in mountain areas

These habitats are among the richest plant communities in Europe, many of which are rare or endemic. The extraordinary plant richness makes them also essential habitats for many protected animal species: birds, insects and other invertebrates, reptiles and mammals. These grassland formations are considered essential for the conservation of wild pollinator species such as butterflies, wild bees or hoverflies, as well as for other rare or protected species. They offer multiple ecosystem benefits and services, including carbon dioxide storage and soil erosion prevention. In economic terms, these grasslands are widely used for grazing livestock across the EU, thus generating income for local communities across their entire distribution area. Grasslands besides representing an immense heritage in terms of biodiversity and beauty, have offered for centuries incalculable economic value to pastoral communities, determining the fortune of the villages and towns that have based their economy on the products of pastoralism.

These grasslands can be found in almost the entire European continent, from the plains to the mountains, and Italy is one of the richest countries. Most of the populations are of secondary origin, as they replace woods and are the product of the transformation of the environment carried out by man over millennia, in particular through grazing. The grasslands therefore have also an important landscape and cultural value, because they are produced and shaped by the action of man, and in particular through cultural traditions and ancestral agro-pastoral practices.

However, the conservation status is unsatisfactory and the surface trend is declining in most of their range. Overall, these habitats are degraded and, according to assessments of future prospects, will continue to deteriorate.

Precisely because they were formed as a result of previous extensive grazing and / or mowing regimes, these grasslands need for their maintenance periodic management based on extensive grazing or mowing. In fact, the main cause that led to the regression and deterioration of these grassland formations is the cessation of grassland management, particularly in mountainous areas. In large parts of the habitat distribution area, including the GRACE project areas, there is an accelerated process of land loss due to the disappearance of grazing activity, which is often economically unsustainable and therefore abandoned, leaving the grasslands to the evolution towards shrub and forest stages. Undergrazing and, in extreme cases, abandonment, alter the structure, species composition and functioning of this ecosystem, also affecting the species associated with it. In some areas it may be found that excessive grazing also has a negative effect on this type of habitat due to excessive trampling or nutrient intake, accompanied by soil erosion processes in areas with greater slopes. This is what occurs on the areas most accessible to livestock or on the areas where it is concentrated, for example, to drink. Supporting extensive farming systems and practices that ensure adequate habitat management and maintenance (adequate grazing or mowing regimes) is in fact the main action suggested by the European action plan to halt the further decline of habitat 6210 and prevent its deterioration.

Useful links:

Grassland with tradition